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Since this is my first podcast I think what I'll do is begin with an explanation of what I mean by the phrase personal development for smart people. I'm sure you've had at least some experience with these self-proclaimed, self-help gurus that make these sweeping promises that you'll have instant success and health and wealth and happiness across all different areas of life — as soon as you buy whatever it is they're selling.
And, of course, if you do so, you find that you get a bunch of recycled platitudes, and there's no real substance to the message. In the long run, all you end up doing is lining their pockets, but not really making any major life changes for yourself. If you're listening to this podcast, I imagine you must be a fairly intelligent person. So I'm not going to insult your intelligence by promising you some fast and easy solutions to all your problems.
The reality of personal development, when it actually works, just isn't like that at all. It's not like the quick fix, it's more of a slow, plodding, methodical process, and it usually takes a tremendous amount of time and hard work, and at times the process can even be painful. But in the long run, over a period of years, intelligently pursuing your own personal growth does pay off.
Let me tell you a personal story that may help illustrate what personal development is.
Let's go back to January 27, 1991. Super Bowl Sunday... and on this particular Sunday, while almost everyone else was watching the Super Bowl, I was sitting in a jail cell. I had just been arrested for felony grand theft, and I already had a prior conviction for shoplifting the year before. I was 19 years old.
If you've never been to jail — and hopefully you haven't — you should know that it's extremely boring. Since I had nothing else to do for the three days I was in jail at that time, I sat there and thought long and hard about my life... which, as you can probably imagine from the fact that I was in jail, was a bit of a mess. And some time during those three days, at some point, I had what to me was a very powerful realization.
I realized, finally, that I was the one who put myself in that cell — that no one else had done it to me. Not the security guard who caught me. Not the officer who arrested me. Not society at large. I wasn't even a victim of my own bad habits. I did it to myself. And that sense of responsibility finally came crashing down on me. No one was coming to save me. If anything in my life was going to change, the impetus for that change was going to have to come from me.
How my life turned out from that point onward was entirely up to me. But there was no way that nineteen-year-old kid could fix his whole life overnight. For starters, he wasn't very emotionally stable; at different times he was depressed, angry, frustrated, alone, sometimes even numb. He was unfocused, he was undisciplined, he was extremely dishonest, and worst of all, he was lazy.
The one thing he had going for him was that he finally reached the level of awareness where he could see that the path that he was on was eventually going to destroy him, if he didn't do something about it.
But to actually correct the problems he faced and to get his life on track seemed untenable — it seemed beyond his abilities. He didn't have the discipline, or the integrity, or the focus, or the persistence to make those kind of sweeping changes. He couldn't even get himself out of bed before noon. Plus, at the time, he was totally addicted to shoplifting — he would often do it several times per day.
So how on earth could he expect to fix everything? He didn't believe he could do it. He knew what he needed to do, but he didn't think he could do it.
He wasn't strong enough, and he was right in thinking that he wasn't strong enough. But when he finally surrendered to that sense that he wasn't strong enough at the time, that's when another realization hit him: maybe there was a way that he could somehow, someday, become strong enough. If he couldn't lift the weight in front of him, maybe he could train himself to the point where he could eventually lift it. He could grow. At the very least he could grow up.
And that gave him a sense of hope, because he felt that working on himself was at least something he could control — even though his external reality seemed to be spiraling out of control. In that moment, he decided to make personal growth his number one priority in life — which included figuring out exactly how he needed to grow.
So what did he actually do?
- First he cut off all ties to the circle of people that were reinforcing his old identify.
- He moved to another city
- Then he gradually made new friends
And what this did, was it helped interrupt the patterns that led to his destructive behavior, and that reinforced it. He successfully kept himself out of jail from that point onward, and that was a big accomplishment for him. He went to work on his knowledge and skills, he bought books and audio programs, and eventually, he started attending seminars. He went to work on his emotions, he gradually overcame his negativity, his negative attitude, his sarcasm... and he started building a positive and enthusiastic attitude for himself, which was a huge shift for him.
He went to work on his focus, and he started consciously setting goals and working to achieve them — what a concept! He went to work on his self-discipline, which allowed him to learn to trust himself, and then to take on bigger and bigger goals. He went to work on his own beliefs about reality, and he gradually formed a new sense of his own spirituality, one that was very empowering for him, one that was uniquely his own. He went to work on his character, on his integrity, and on his sense of honor, until he became a man who could take a long hard look at himself in the mirror without wanting to turn away.
He went to work on his time management skills, which allowed him to go to college and graduate with two degrees in three semesters by taking triple the normal course load. He went to work on his relationships, eventually attracting a wonderful women into his life, who not only became his wife but also his best friend. He went to work on his courage, facing down his deepest fears. He started his own computer games business, and after much difficulty, after a lot of hard work, he was able to make it successful.
He went to work on his physical energy and he begun exercising regularly. He ran a marathon, he trained in Taekwondo. He became a vegetarian, and then a vegan, permanently eliminating all animal products from his diet. He went to work on his generosity, and he started writing, and speaking, and volunteering to help others with their own personal growth, all for free. He went to work on his vision of his life. He took the time to consciously define a purpose for his life... and over time, to make that purpose a part of his daily reality, a part of his everyday life.
So over a period of a decade and a half, 15 years, that 19-year-old kid was able to completely transform every part of his life. He tore it down, he redesigned it, and he rebuilt it from scratch by conscious choice. How much time do you think that took? How much time did he work directly on his own personal growth during those 15 years? Did it involve just reading a book and having a instant quick-fix solution that worked? Not remotely! The best guess would probably be about 10,000 hours: that is equivalent to 5 years of 40-hour weeks.
Thanks to that one committed decision that he made, and all the hard work he did to follow through on it, the person that I am today, that I am right now, owes him my very existence. I exist because of him.
Because of him, I get up every morning at 5am wide wake and full of energy. Because of him, I feel confident and enthusiastic about my life. Because of him, I have the courage to go after my dreams, without being sidetracked by fear. Because of him, I have a wonderful wife and kids. Because of him, I now spend my time doing the most fulfilling and purposeful work I can possibly imagine for myself. Because of him, I'm in a position of being able to make a positive contribution to the world. Because of him, I can honestly say I'm truly happy, I'm truly happy, because he made a decision and paid the price.
I owe everything I am to that scared, lazy, dishonest, terribly confused, young man — to that one intelligent decision that he made on January 27, 1991. The decision to grow... the decision to grow. And words cannot express the overwhelming gratitude I feel towards him every day for making that decision. Isn't it amazing that all of these positive results can be traced back to a single decision, made by a 19-year-old kid sitting in a jail cell, being charged with a felony?
Can you image what that same kind of decision could do for you? Deciding to grow, to improve yourself, to become a better, stronger, more capable person tomorrow than you are today? I'm not saying you need to drop everything in your life and center your entire life around the pursuit of personal growth. What I am suggesting is that you can commit to begin weaving a thread of personal growth into your everyday life. Starting right now.
And you know that even if you do that, it's unlikely that your life is going to change much in the short term. Even after six months, or a year, things may not be that much different for you than they are today. But fast forward 5 years, 10 years, 15 years, and you know, over that kind of time, even small changes will begin to make a real difference. It's like the concept of compound interest, where each new change builds on the one before it. I'm not going to tell you that personal growth is going to be fast and easy; quite the contrary, in fact: it's long, it's hard, and much of the time it's painful. It will stretch you to your limits, it will stretch you beyond your limits, and you'll experience some failure.
But if you accept that this is just how it's going to be, and you commit to doing it anyway, then you've already won! You've already won, just like that 19-year-old kid did. Understand that one of the most intelligent decision that you can possibly make, both for your own good and for the good of everyone else around you, is to grow. To grow. To become the best human being you are capable of becoming, no matter how difficult it is or how long it takes. If it takes 15 years, it takes 15 years.
Now I've certainly not reached the pinnacle of human development, just ask my wife and she'll be happy to tell you. As human beings, we are never done growing. It's a lifelong process, and for me, it's also a lifelong commitment. You see, my purpose in life — the very reason that I've defined for my own existence — is to consciously and courageously pursue personal growth, and to actively support other people who want to grow as well. For me, this is not just a career. It's who I've become, it's what I'm here to do... and I invite you to join me on this journey. Online at the stevepavlina.com website, you'll find lots of free resources. There are over 1000 articles that take a deep look at all the different aspects of personal development, and this is only going to increase over time.
Here are some links to help you get started, so you hopefully won't be overwhelmed:
- The Courage to Live Consciously
- The Meaning of Life Series
- The Self-Discipline Series
- How to Become an Early Riser
- Personal Development Blog Archives
Whatever figurative jail cell you find yourself in right now, realize that you're the one that put yourself there. You put yourself there. And ultimately, you're the one who's going to have to work yourself out of it. No one's coming to save you, including me.
But I am here to help you if you want to take advantage of that. I know that no matter what your life looks like right now, within you is the potential for something much greater. I also know that you aren't going to tap that potential with a fast and easy quick-fix; it's going to take a lot of hard work and it's going to take a lot of time. But despite how hard it may be, it will be worth it.
So if you only remember one idea from this podcast, then just remember this one word: grow. Grow.
Steve Pavlina's bestselling book, Personal Development for Smart People, is available for Kindle and iPad.